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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Solstice Good News from Around the World

Well the solstice has passed and for those of us in the southern hemisphere that means summer is on its way. Those at forty degrees latitude south will have to wait a little longer than most but summer is good news. On the topic of good news it is timely to review some recent highlights.

Ukraine didn’t have a civil war

Despite the best efforts of some parties common sense prevailed and the country did no implode, Russian speakers were not massacred, the Nazi’s didn’t take over, and the country held credible elections that delivered a clear mandate. Russia placed considerable psychological pressure on Ukraine but there was no wholesale invasion or annexation of the Eastern part of the country. Crimea was taken in a largely bloodless intervention but frankly Russia had no choice. The alternative would be to risk NATO tanks within driving distance of the Black Sea fleet. No rational state would allow that and the world will live with it and move on. Ukraine now has the opportunity to make friends east and west and that is a good thing for everyone.

Indonesia is holding free and fair elections

Let me put this in context. Indonesia’s first president was a communist sympathiser who was ousted in a military coup in 1965. Following the coup anyone deemed or considered a communist was fair game and anywhere from a hundred thousand to half a million people were massacred. Thirty years of “guided democracy” followed under the Suharto regime. I was in Indonesia shortly before the revolution and wrote about it in my book. Would the army side with Suharto? Would Muslim extremists take over? Could the country transition to democracy? Could traditional values of respectful dialogue and consensus hold the country together? What would happen to minorities? Could democracy work in a developing country spread across 13000 islands with literally hundreds of languages? No one knew but they knew things were going to change.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim country and now one of the world’s largest democracies (India is the biggest). I know of no other democratic Muslim nation. Without a hereditary monarch Indonesia was able to invent its own system of elected representation and frankly it’s a lot more democratic than hours. For starter they get to elect their president. Our prime minister is chosen by their party through dysfunctional factional ‘horse trading’ from which the populace is excluded. Our head of State is nominated by the prime minister and appointed by a hereditary monarch. Presidential candidates in Indonesia can only be nominated by a party or coalition that has achieved at least 20 per cent of the seats or 25 per cent of the vote in the legislative elections. These were held in April. In order to contest the legislative elections a party must have:

  • a branch office and branch in every province;
  • a branch office and branch at least 75 per cent of the regencies or municipalities in every province; and
  • at least one third of each party's candidates must be female.

This ensured broad based representation and militates against factional and regional favouritism. The logistical challenge of running an election in a far flung developing country is vast but they are happening well enough to deliver legitimate outcomes.

Solar eclipses coal and nuclear

It’s pretty much all good news. Solar power was always a matter of scale. The more panels are built the cheaper each unit becomes. As India and China come on board scales of manufacture drive down price. Nuclear carries enormous fixed costs and can only be made economic by not counting externality costs like managing toxic waste for the next 10,000 years, ignoring the cost of nuclear accidents, or the sunk R&D cost which includes the still classified cost of the Manhattan project. The more coal, oil and gas are burned the less remains and the higher the price of making electricity becomes. A tipping point is reached when solar becomes cheaper than coal/gas/nuclear.

That point has been reached. Solar in the USA is now competing directly with conventional electricity on price. India is poised to install the world’s largest solar plant. Germany generates half of its domestic electricity from solar. Australia’s three million home solar installations are now outbidding coal electricity during times of peak demand – when the sun is shining and everyone turns on their air conditioners. Naturally vested interests are not taking this lying down and have attempted through their proxies to dismantle Australia’s renewable energy policy. The first attempt has been blocked in the Senate by, of all things, a motoring enthusiast and a maverick billionaire mining magnate. Gotta love this country.
Tasmania’s World Heritage Area holds

Controversial locally but significant globally, the WHA extension completes a process begun when the Tasmanian forest campaign began in 1973. The first WHA in Tasmania came into being a decade later in 1983 following the campaign to save the Franklin River. It covers hundreds of kilometres of mountains, lakes, grassy plains, glacial remains, forest pockets, and stunning wild coasts. Excluded from the WHA were the ancient wilderness forests of the glacial river valleys to the east. Instead the boundary was drawn at the climactic tree line and snaked crazily around the hills and valleys. Thirty years later the WHA extension simply put back what remains of what should have been included in 1983.

However in a public admission that logging was degrading the area the federal government made a submission to the World Heritage Committee arguing that almost half the extension was too degraded to be included. This flew in the face of the fact that the world heritage system of international agreement allows for rehabilitation of damaged sites, and the degraded area was small. It did however risk a precedent that would have undermined the integrity of the world heritage system and placed at risk sites that are under pressure including the Great Barrier Reef. The Committee saw the submission for what it was and spent approximately seven minutes throwing it out – a humiliating and well deserved diplomatic defeat. See further here: http://theconversation.com/tasmanias-world-heritage-debate-needs-to-look-beyond-the-trees-28183

The forest debate isn’t over but this is the heart – the core areas that the environmental movement has been fighting for over thirty years. The forest industry is a mess and management of both the industry and the new reserves face significant challenges. Never-the-less the WHA has held and this is good news.


The EU Bans bee killing insecticides

The worlds’ bees are declining as neonicotinoids and other chemical herbicides and pesticides build up through the food chain. While farmers gain temporary benefits from chemical use there is a longer term risk of killing the soil ecology on which all farming ultimately depends. Recent chemical bans by the EU provides helpful leadership to developing countries and pushes back on Monsanto.

Tony Abbott does something good

Finding something good to say about Abbott was a significant challenge but I found three things:

  • we are buying off-the-shelf submarines rather than building our, own saving around $30 billion over thirty years, plus the subs will actually work.
  • the schools chaplaincy program is continuing. To people who harbour a deep personal angst at the thought that someone somewhere might come to faith or discover their religious and cultural heritage this terrible. In reality though the program has been embraced by people of all persuasions and the response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. Thus far it has lent a listening ear to students and has not become a vehicle for pushing fundamentalist religion.
  • the program of one year military enrolment has been re-started. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However having grown up in a working class/welfare suburb I can attest that this program will provide a bridge to employment and a better life for many young men who don’t want to sign up to the armed forces long term.

If anyone else wants to share some good news feel free.

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